Thursday, June 4, 2015

Transubstantiation: Prefigured in the Old Testament

  Feast of Corpus Christi

Original photo from Pixabay.
This Sunday, the second reading will be from Hebrews 9:11-15. I’d suggest starting at verse 1, for context, and also reading both of the other readings. It's lectionary #168, if you're reading from a hard copy.

Why do we believe in transubstantiation? Logistically, it seems to cause us nothing but trouble, so why is it theologically so important?

This Sunday, the readings point us to one of the reasons as laid out in the Bible. (To my mind, a case based solely on the Last Supper, when Jesus says, “this is my body”, is not a good one, because it doesn’t lay out any evidence that might actually convince a skeptic.)

In John 6, Jesus says, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink,” and at the last supper he says of the bread they shared, “this is my body.”

These (or something like them) is what most Catholics quote when challenged on transubstantiation and think that’s the end of it, but it can’t be. It may be enough for someone who already trusts the Church, but when you’re challenged like this, you’re speaking to someone who doesn’t yet have that trust. You need to show them the Church’s work, so that you can help lay a strong foundation of reasons to trust.

I’ve observed before that the New Covenant is prefigured in great detail in the Old Covenant: in the Kingdom of Israel, in the temple, in the very events in Jewish history, and in a great many other things in the Old Testament. This fact was greatly helpful to me when I struggled with my understanding of devotion to the Blessed Mother.

Jesus says those things about eating his flesh in John 6 because he’s not just any sacrifice. He’s the new Passover lamb, and these things are a matter of consistency with the Passover sacrifice because the Passover prefigured Jesus’ sacrifice. When the Jews finished killing the Passover lamb, they ate it - it took their places, so that the Angel of Death would pass over their house. Likewise, we must partake of the sacrificial victim that has taken our place.

The Jews reenacted this memorial of the Passover every year. It’s important to bear in mind that we don’t share the biblical Jews’ cultural understanding of what a “memorial” is. For them, in the annual memorial of Passover, they were actually present with those first Jews who walked out of Egypt by the hand of God. They were not metaphorically or figuratively present; they were actually present.

When Jesus says, “Do this in memory of me,” at the Last Supper, he’s speaking those words into this cultural understanding, and even right into the Passover itself.

We follow those very instructions at Mass, we reenact the Lord’s Last Supper, and the events are made sacramentally present for us each week. It’s not that we sacrifice Jesus again - we, during Mass, participate in the one eternal sacrifice of the Mass that took place on that first Good Friday.

Let’s Pray:

Sweet Jesus, we are grateful for your sacrifice to save us, and for the gift of your presence there on the altar. Deepen our Gratitude ad help us to love and appreciate your presence more and more. Strengthen our faith, and teach us to trust you to the uttermost. Take away our doubt for things that we cannot see, and help us to know your presence and experience it more deeply each time we go to Mass.


Edited 6/19/15 - to correct a grammar error.

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